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Inferences from the SCG pink-ball game ft. Pant’s x-factor, Carey’s maturity and the Shaw-Burns tragedy

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Rishabh Pant is the x-factor that India desperately need

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Inferences from the SCG pink-ball game ft. Pant’s x-factor, Carey’s maturity and the Shaw-Burns tragedy

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Anirudh Suresh

12/13/2020

For the second time in the span of a week, a spirited Australian A side gave the Indians a run for their money as the hosts scrambled to a draw through a gritty performance on the final day. Inferences from the game were aplenty but for the time being, we’ll be going through the 6 biggest takeaways.

Rishabh Pant is the X-factor India desperately need 

It was a long time coming, but for the first time since IPL 2019, Rishabh Pant found his footing. And once he did, there was nothing stopping him. 103 off 73, 9 fours and 6 monster sixes - a 101 on counter-attacking batting in conditions that were anything but easy. On a personal level, the innings on Friday was one of paramount importance for Pant, but it was also a reminder to India as to what they have in their hands. Pant adds that x-factor to the batting that the Aussies dread. His knock at the SCG on Friday is exactly the kind which could take the game away from the opposition or turn the landscape of the match or series around in a span of overs, and in the absence of Kohli, that is precisely what the visitors need. If the management envisioned the two warm-up games as a direct Pant vs Saha face-off, then it has to be said that the youngster KO-ed the veteran, through his batting alone.

Picking Joe Burns and Prithvi Shaw would be suicidal

Should there be an immediate face-off, Prithvi Shaw could take the wicket of Joe Burns and vice-versa: that’s how bad they’ve been batting, and that’s how low their confidence is. Both Shaw and Burns have received unwavering support from their respective managements and teammates owing to their incumbency, but if these two warm-up games are any evidence to go by, the two should be nowhere near the first XI for the Adelaide Test. It is of little doubt that they’re quality batsmen who still have plenty of good days ahead of them, but the duo couldn’t be farther away from finding form. While Shaw looks like he’s forgotten the concept of long-format cricket, Burns gives the impression that he, at this moment, cannot get even Jeff Bezos to buy a run for him. Picking both players for the Adelaide Test, apart from being a suicidal move that could hurt their respective sides, could also turn out to be humiliating for the duo. 

Navdeep Saini could be a potent enforcer, but he has a long, long way to go

If Navdeep Saini could erase these past 15 days, you bet he would do it. From being the first choice seamer in limited-overs cricket and the “next in line” bowler in Tests, Saini, in a fortnight, has turned into that one player fans do not wish to see anywhere near the first team in the immediate future. We’ve heard those who’ve seen Saini closely ramble about how the longer format is his forte, but while he did alright in the first innings - 3 wickets, though predominantly tailenders - his bubble was burst in the second. Like in the ODIs, he straddled between ‘too full’ and ‘too short’ and delivered myriad ‘hit me’ deliveries that released pressure off Carey and McDermott. He did not generate swing or get the ball to move off the seam, and, unlike Siraj, looked like he did not have a reliable stock delivery he could go to. Perhaps it was the weight of expectations playing its hand, but Saini looked way too raw - a level or two below the rest of the Indian seamers. That said, however, both himself and India would take heart from a brute of a mini-burst he produced in the final session, where, coming around the wicket, he roughed up two set batters by dishing out uncomfortable short deliveries aimed at the armpit. It was one of the rare occasions in this tour where he used his pace to great effect. Undoubtedly there is potential, but Saini needs to understand his own game better, invent himself on the field and learn to be the best version of himself. 

India’s third and fourth bowlers will have a huge role to play in the series 

Whether India go with four seamers or Ashwin and Umesh/Siraj as their third and fourth bowlers remains to be seen, but regardless of who plays, the third and fourth bowlers will have an enormous role to play. The Indians ran through the Australian top-order on the final day, but as the flattening of the pitch coincided with the withdrawal of Shami and Bumrah from the attack, the visitors’ bowling, like the wicket, became flat, which also might be the case on Day 1 of Adelaide. Despite being under severe scorecard pressure, both McDermott and Carey scored runs for fun and were seldom troubled by the secondary options. And once they were in, they were invincible, much like Gill, Vihari and Pant on Day 2. This could be a potential warning sign for India as in the absence of Ishant Sharma, the third and fourth bowlers letting batsmen off the hook could make it harder for Shami and Bumrah to pierce through batsmen once they’re set, as was the case at the SCG today. 

The Aussies have some ludicrous depth in the pace department in the longer format

We saw Neser, Pattinson and Steketee flex their muscles at the Drummoyne Oval last week, and this week it was the turn of Abbott, Sutherland, Conway and Wildermuth. And though the quartet were not as efficient as they’d have liked to, they gave the Indians a run for the money and had the visitors in the ropes. While Abbott firmly established that four and five day cricket was where he belonged, Conway showed why he’s been the highest wicket-taker for NSW since the start of last season. But the most impressive of the lot, though, was arguably young Will Sutherland. The towering seamer swung the new cherry both ways and put one hell of a shift with the old nut, where he was unlucky to not have accounted for the wicket of a set Hanuma Vihari. Jack Wildermuth will make the headlines on Monday for his impressive counter-punching ton, but what was arguably more enchanting was how he made the Indian batters dance to his tunes in the first innings with a not-so-new pink ball, bowling Colin de Grandhomme-esque lines and lengths. With Pattinson, Neser, Abbott, Steketee, Jhye Richardson and Sutherland shaping up nicely as potential frontline options, and with Cameron Green and Wildermuth proving their worth as fourth/fifth seamers who could do a job and a half with the willow, Australia’s lower-order seems to be set for the years to come. 

Carey looks like he’ll make a good wicket-keeper batsman, his glovework will probably decide if he’ll be the heir apparent 

It spoke volumes of Alex Carey’s talent as a pure batsman that he was the best Australian batsman across both innings against a rampant Indian pace attack in nightmarish batting conditions, despite not having played any first-class cricket for over a year. Carey did everything a team would want from its wicket-keeper: he did not panic, he counter-attacked, he rebuilt and he batted efficiently with the tail. Not for a single ball he looked out of his depth, and really, for the entirety of the game, he seemed like a professional in a batting line-up full of amateurs. In many ways, although there is plenty of room for improvement, Carey squashed doubts about his proficiency as a longer format batsman. However, the real test for him, one imagines, now lies behind the stumps. In all probability, he is perhaps already qualified enough to bat at No.7 for Australia in Test cricket, but whether his glovework will match the required standards is the question he’ll have to answer. One decent Shield season from here with both bat and gloves, one suspects, should be enough for him to take the mantle over from Paine, despite both Inglis and Pierson making their own cases to be the Tasmanian’s successor. 

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